Volunteers are encouraged to feed those in need

Paul Booker stands with frozen meals to share with the 60 to 100 neighborhood residents who come to the drive every Friday.

“It’s amazing the ideas hatched in the rental cars waiting in line at the TCF Center,” said Paul Booker, a resident of Grosse Pointe Farms, whose good intentions during the height of the pandemic have since turned into providing food and daily necessities for up to 60 to 100 people- the person at ZIP code 48214 exits the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church parking lot every Friday.

After retiring in 2018, from a 30-year career as an elementary language arts specialist and then an academic assistant at the Grosse Pointe Public School System, she remembers reading a lot of books — her most recent recommendation was “Hamnet” by Maggie O’ Farrell — and watching nearly every show on Netflix, before realizing he was bored.

The solution was to start collecting boxes of produce from Food Rescue US, which was operating upon leaving the TCF Center, and distributing them from the church parking lot in July 2020. The effort really paid off, however, when partnering with Make Food Not Waste led to the distribution of 1,000 banquets Thanksgiving in November of that year.

The cascading effect saw Make Food Not Waste begin producing weekly meals from church kitchens in January 2021, followed by Harbortown Market and Meijer Rivertown Market which will join forces in February 2021 and summer 2022 respectively, with surplus food donations past their point of sale. .

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that this country produces enough food to feed everyone,” Booker said. “There is more than enough and when you read the statistics that we waste between 39 and 40 percent of the food we produce, and yet we have people who come to church on Fridays who can’t afford food or are hungry, through no fault of their own, I find it almost inexcusable that our country is in this position. That we produce, but we do not care for our own.

Photo by Renée Landuyt
Volunteers worked with Booker to distribute food at Jefferson Presbyterian on a cold Friday morning in February. From left are Chelsea Gilbert, Paul Booker, Janice Konen, Rachel Hays, Lexi Danielson-Francois and Serge Danielson-Francois.

The concept of “take care of yourself” can be seen from the people who come to JAPC every Friday. Most were of the older generation, but a large number replaced family members and neighbors living at home.

Beyond food—everything from fruits and vegetables, to soups and stews, to the ever-pricey eggs—this push connects people, whenever possible, to essential items that can add up to costs, including underwear for adult incontinence; children’s diapers; and about 50 bags a month of feminine hygiene products.

“I keep a stash of gloves and hats in the church, because nowadays people come in and they don’t dress properly,” Booker added, noting the deacon also offers a prayer station at the location.

To reduce waste, composters are available on site for food that can’t be used — Booker uses a measuring device, “Well, I’m not going to serve that to my family” — as well as a cardboard recycler. When the good food is left, the volunteers will put it in the community fridge on the corner of Field Street and Kercheval.

Upholding the faith of postal workers, Booker has only missed two Fridays due to snowstorms since July 2020.

However, sometimes, as chair of the church’s mission committee, he felt as though he was gaining more experience than what he was giving away. She specifically recalls the time a friend offered her extra tickets to see “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” at the Detroit Opera House on a Thursday night, which she had to refuse because she woke up at 5:30 a.m. Friday to collect food from Meijer.

“So of course I was in a great mood all Friday and it was spinning,” he said, “… and a woman walked up to me and she had some bills in her hand and she said, ‘Honey, I don’t have any a lot, but I want you to have this, because I appreciate what you did for us.’

“I think it was maybe three or four dollars,” he continued. “It wasn’t a lot of money, but there are stories in the Bible about the widow giving everything she had and I thought, ‘That woman gave everything she had and you’ve been complaining about the loss’ Tina. ‘ last month. I think you need to get your priorities straight here, my friend.’”

For those interested in helping and perhaps experiencing a new perspective of their own, volunteers are always welcome through makefoodnotwaste.org.

Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church and Grosse Pointe Memorial Church are also currently partnering for a collection of Lenten hygiene products, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, that can be delivered to either church.

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